Book review

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende (1979)

Have you ever held a storybook in your hand and spared a moment's thought for the characters waiting inside? As soon as you start to read a story the characters spring into life, fully formed, don't they? They live in their own world, with their own past, present and future.

But what happens if you don't bother to read the book? What happens if everyone gives up reading and talking about the stories? If everyone forgets about the stories, do the characters die? Do they just disappear into nothingness?

That is what this story is about. Our hero is Bastian Balthazar Bux. He is a rather timid, bookish, fat boy who is unhappy at school because he is always being teased. One rainy morning he takes refuge from his tormentors in a second hand bookshop, and there he first beholds a book which he feels he absolutely must have, to read:

He picked up the book and examined it from all sides. It was bound in copper-colored silk that shimmered when he moved it about. Leafing through the pages, he saw the book was printed in two colors. There seemed to be no pictures, but there were large, beautiful capital letters at the beginning of the chapters. Examining the binding more closely, he discovered two snakes on it, one light and one dark. They were biting each other's tail, so forming an oval. And inside the oval, in strangely intricate letters, he saw the title:
The Neverending Story

He can't buy it, and so he steals the book, hides himself away in the attic of his own school, and settles down to read the same story that we are reading: The Neverending Story.

We enter the realm of Fantastica, where things are going badly wrong. The realm is being swallowed up, slowly but surely, by advancing puddles of nothingness. The diverse inhabitants of Fantastica send out messengers to their Childlike Empress who lives in the Ivory Tower to see if she can help or advise. Alas, she cannot, it seems, because she is also dying from a mysterious illness. She can only be cured if a human will visit Fantastica and endow her with a new name.

The stage is set. The Childlike Empress sends her hero, a boy named Atreyu, out on a mission to search for just such a human. Atreyu's task is a difficult one. In fact, he must launch himself off on such a wild and demanding and absorbing adventure that he succeeds in drawing the reader, Bastian Balthazar Bux, back into the realm of Fantastica! But Atreyu does succeed, and Bastian is delighted to find himself suddenly transported into Fantastica.

You might think that that is the end of the story, but in fact it is just the beginning. Because, once there, Bastian Balthazar Bux has such a marvellous time that he does not want to leave. And in the end, he finds that he very nearly can't leave. He needs all the help he can get from his friends in Fantastica.

If you enjoy fantasy and roaming round totally new worlds populated by the outlandish and bizarre, then I'm sure you will enjoy this book!

What can I read next?

If you enjoy The Neverending Story you will probably also enjoy this one by Michael Ende:

  • Momo

You might also like to have a look at The Wind on Fire trilogy by William Nicholson:

I think you might enjoy Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy:

You could look at these books by John Masefield:

And I'm sure you would love the world created by J R R Tolkien:

By the way, just thinking about creations of the imagination, when Bastian Balthazar Bux is in Fantastica he has the problem of wondering whether the creatures that he meets in Fantastica only exist because of him and his imagination, or whether they have always been there. It reminded me of one of the characters in The Kin by Peter Dickinson, who wonders whether the gods have always occupied a particular holy place, or whether they only came to the holy place with their people when the people arrived there. It is a superb book, take a look at it:

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